20 Tough Questions For the Fire Chief: Question 7

Many of the installments of this series refer to the new challenges that have been placed upon the fire service and, more specifically, how to pay for those services. Many government agencies – federal, state and local – are critically examining their...


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It may make sense, based on the topography and layout of your community and the location of stations, to respond with smaller vehicles.

Based upon your review you may find it beneficial to send smaller trucks, with less people to minor events, but will this be more efficient and save money? Let’s look.

One argument often cited is that smaller fire apparatus cost less to operate than larger apparatus. Generally, this would be an accurate statement when comparing the initial cost of both vehicle types. Additionally, we need to measure and report the day-to-day operating costs. Below is an example comparing two years of data gathered during a trail evaluating a change in response protocol; reducing the usage of larger apparatus on certain types of calls.

Type       Allocation (yr)      Part/Labor            Fuel Cost          Miles/Hr.       Operation Cost Mile/Hr

Eng. 21    $37,000              $11,461               $5,375              11,159         $1.51

              $45,000              $10,231               $6,788              11,664         $1.46

Utility 21  $2,446                $11,461               $1,130                4,310            .53

              $2,778                $10,230               $1,868                3,257            .54

Source: City of Plymouth,MN, Public Works Department, 2012

A comparison between two different apparatus types is shown. Metrics can help when evaluating changes to response protocol. RED data indicates fleet data for both Engine 21 (1,250 gpm/500 gal) and Utility 21 (four-door extended-bed pickup) for 2010. Black indicates data for 2011.

It’s important to know the significance and limitations of your data.  For example, fuel costs tend to fluctuate as well as increases in allocation fees due to labor cost and inflation. 

Consideration should also be given to the type of vehicle in which to respond when evaluating smaller vehicles staffed with less personnel. Technology and engineering available in today’s fire apparatus allows for the effective use of smaller vehicles in multi-mission roles. An example may be a mini-pumper equipped with a compressed-air foam system (CAFS).

Determining what type of response to send the smaller vehicle too largely depends upon a thorough review of your call volume, event type patterns, staffing and expectations. Also, consider outcomes – not all calls for service require four responders. Identify which types of calls could be effectively handled with two responders. A sample matrix is provided. Such protocols should account for local circumstances and following a risk assessment. This is not a one-solution-fits-all proposition.

This operating guideline establishes procedures for responding to calls for service, type of response and response mode. Responders shall conduct an ongoing risk-vs.-benefit analysis for every call – minimizing risk through analyzing and matching call type to response mode and resource allocation. Conditions, time of day and call information, staffing and crew integrity shall be considered when responding to a call for service. A “routine” (non-emergency) response is preferred due to the reduced risk of accident. The officer may upgrade or reduce the response based upon prevailing information.

 

Innovative solutions

When evaluating changes to response protocols it’s important to give consideration to the culture of your organization. If your department has a history of continuous improvement through self-evaluation, such changes will be taken in stride as an expected response to economic pressures.

Where members are stuck on traditional models and modes of thinking it can be difficult to try new approaches. This subjects them to criticism of being inflexible and stuck in old ways of thinking and operating. Fire departments with cultures that foster innovative solutions to challenging problems will prove they are resilient and responsive to the tough questions from elected and appointed officials.